The owner. The gardener. The tree. At different times in life, most of us fit all three roles.
The first, impatient, eager for results. “C’mon! We’ve given you a hundred chances. Three years is more than enough. When you gonna produce?”
The second, voice of mercy. Nurturer. But also practical: if fertilizer fails, chop down the procrastinating tree.
Third, the silent pivot of the story. The tree stands for centuries as symbol of our failures, our lack of fruit, our disappointing dullness after so much has been invested in us. But an equally long-standing symbol: the tree of life, which occurs in many world religions, and in Christianity was tied to the cross of Christ. Which are we? Or are we both/and at different seasons? Sometimes inner-directed, hibernating, poised for growth. Other times, flowering, fragrant, fruitful.
Interestingly, the San Jose Mercury News reported on May 11, 1996 the reason for a dismal cherry harvest. It seems the trees need 900-1000 hours of temperatures below 45 degrees; without the necessary dormancy they are “sleep deprived” and fail to produce.
The nondualistic intrigue of the gospels: the fig tree of Jesus’ parable may in due time bear fruit. We too, may need the inwardness, the care, the nudge. Jesus leaves us without the easy control of the clear-cut resolution; instead, we reflect in wonder and mystery.